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Neural spiking for causal inference

By Benjamin James Lansdell, Konrad P Kording

Posted 25 Jan 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/253351

When a neuron is driven beyond its threshold it spikes, and the fact that it does not communicate its continuous membrane potential is usually seen as a computational liability. Here we show that this spiking mechanism allows neurons to produce an unbiased estimate of their causal influence, and a way of approximating gradient descent learning. Importantly, neither activity of upstream neurons, which act as confounders, nor downstream non-linearities bias the results. By introducing a local discontinuity with respect to their input drive, we show how spiking enables neurons to solve causal estimation and learning problems.

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